Melbourne-based South African songwriter’s assured debut, a long time coming, covers public panic attacks, enforced family partings, visa rules and break-ups
Born and raised in South Africa, but now based in Melbourne, Ruby Gill has been playing the long game in terms of record releases. Back in 2018, she released Your Mum, a startlingly good EP which displayed her distinctive voice quite beautifully. It was a song that made you eager to hear more.
We’ve had to wait four years for Gill’s debut album, but it’s a wait that’s been worth it. The 12 songs gathered on I’m Going To Die With This Frown On My Face were written over the past decade, and give a pretty good impression of what Gill is all about. They also, more importantly, point towards a pretty exciting future.
For those people who just know Gill from the handful of EPs she’s released, there may be some surprise at the musical palette on display. There are the hushed ballads based on piano and guitar of course, but there’s also some more muscular arrangements on the likes of Anchor, while songs like Public Panic Attacks have an appropriately nervy energy that bubbles away beautifully.
Gill is an intensely personal songwriter and can beautifully conjure up various images in a couple of lines. Borderlines was actually written about her problems with the Australian government’s policies about visas and being unable to see her family in South Africa – but after the last few years, pretty much anyone can relate to a line like “I just wanna know when I can hug my mum, my step-father is getting old”, and the world-weary, exhausted way that Gill delivers it.
Public Panic Attacks is about, as the title would suggest, having panic attacks in public. It starts off softly, before slowly becoming more strident and evolving into an unlikely celebratory singalong. Vocally, there are more than a few nods to Laura Marling, especially on In Time With The Engine Turning On, while on the hypnotic Stockings For Skating there’s some vocal phrasing reminiscent of Mary Margaret O’Hara.
Champion Ruby may be named after a brand of tobacco, but it’s also one of the most affecting songs about falling in love that you’ll hear all year. It’s the sort of song that can make you laugh one minute (with a line like “light me up a cigarette, I’m going to hold it ironically, I don’t smoke, not even socially”) before knocking you sideways with a line like “you made me weak at the knees, and I’ve got pretty strong knees”. It’s a surefire contender for one of the best songs of the year.
All The Birds Under The Westgate closes the album in just 100 seconds, and is a typically wry tale about Gill breaking up with her partner only for her to end up cooking his dinner. By the time it’s finished, you want to go straight back to the start and listen to the whole album again. If you’ve not discovered Ruby Gill yet, I’m Going To Die With This Frown On My Face is a perfect introduction – and it’s a safe bet that you won’t be frowning when you listen.